Three straight trips to the Final Four. Two runs to the national title game in three years.
It is, quite simply, a new universe for Stanford women’s basketball. Certainly a new standard for considering the season a success.
If you are planning to play to the end of the season – rather that merely wishing and hoping – then playing tough at the beginning of the season becomes part of the deal.
For the second year in a row, Stanford has upped the ante on its non-conference schedule, featuring nine NCAA Tournament teams – including Connecticut, Tennessee, Xavier, Rutgers, Texas and DePaul.
“I don’t know that we could play a more competitive schedule,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “This is the schedule our team expects to play.”
The season will open Sunday, Nov. 14 at home against Rutgers.
It is followed by a two-game road trip to Utah – who will be joining the Pac-10 in 2011 – and a Nov. 21 date at Gonzaga.
The Cardinal come home to take on South Carolina and Texas before the annual finals break, following by a home game against Fresno State. Stanford takes its longest trip of the year, heading to face DePaul on Dec. 16 followed by a Dec. 19 game at Tennessee and a Dec. 22 game at USF to lead into the marquee-topping games.
Stanford will stage a Dec. 28 rematch against Xavier – the team that nearly knocked the Cardinal out of the Elite Eight in Sacramento last year – and then the Dec. 30 game against Connecticut, which could be game No. 89 in the Huskies’ quest to break UCLA’s record of 88 straight victories.
Last year, the Cardinal also played a difficult slate that included Gonzaga, DePaul, Duke, Tennessee and Connecticut. They came through it with just one loss at the hands of the Huskies in Hartford. They also came through it a bit weary and as the Pac-10 season started VanDerveer wondered whether the difficult non-conference slate had taken a toll.
“But I definitely think it helped us get to the NCAA Tournament,” VanDerveer said. “I think especially being in the west, that we need to play east coast and midwest schools. People need to see us and they need to know we are here.
“I don’t feel like we have any choice to get ready for the NCAA Tournament.”
The coach said she hopes this is a “win-win” situation for a young team that will be anchored by Nneka Ogwumike, Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen and includes a group of young players such as Chiney Ogwumike, and guards Sara James and Toni Kohenis.
“Our young players need to see right away that this is the competition, this is who we want to be playing against and beating,” VanDerveer said.